Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Looking Backward and Forward to S U R V I V E

In all of the eight years I spent in Austin, I rarely got out to see any music. Chalk it up to parenthood. Even when it came to SXSW, which has now grown into a ridiculous monster way beyond anyone's imagination, I only ever went to free shows, and I am pretty sure that I can count all of them I actually got out to on one hand.

During one particularly rainy SXSW afternoon I ventured out to see a band that, thanks to the recommendation of a friend, had become an unlikely favorite. The synth band S U R V I V E, who supplied the memorable soundtrack to a trip in Tuscon, was setting up a rare informal show at record store and personal browsing spot End of an Ear. Even without hardcopy, MNQ026 had uncharacteristically stood the test of time, clawing its way to classic status in my book, and I did not want to pass up the chance to see them for free up close. I got there a little early, so I had to the chance to talk with one of the members briefly, mainly to ask if it would be cool if I took some pictures of the band’s gear.

“Yes,” he said decisively, “it would be VERY cool.”

The band was clearly proud of their setup, and although I certainly don’t have the insight to make heads or tails of it all, I know enough to appreciate what they have assembled. What became more apparent when they began their performance, however, was the way in which they had total mastery over those instruments. Many of the artists that S U R V I V E call influences were experimenting with the possibilities of these instruments when they were new, but S U R V I V E knows what each instrument is capable of and uses it to compelling effect. It was a great show that was not done justice by the poor videos I took.

That was two years ago. Now, thanks to some of the band’s members being involved in the distinctive soundtrack to a delightfully retro-creepy Netflix series, S U R V I V E are as close to the big time as an experimental synth outfit can hope to get. Coincidentally, and even before their attachment to Stranger Things, they had recorded and set a release date for MNQ026’s follow-up, RR7349.

Of all of my September 30 new releases (and there were several), this was the one that I have anticipated the most.  Its predecessor's compelling mix of texture, timbre, atmosphere, and melody has kept me coming back, and it has been my hope that RR7349 could recapture the magic, so to speak.

The verdict? It seems that it has. RR7349 still sounds as if it is the soundtrack to a long-lost Blade Runner spin-off. It delivers on the nostalgia in terms of sound and structure, which is largely due the array of vintage instruments that the band employs, but is also harbors a nuanced melodic side that exists in a carefully crafted balance with its layered atmospheres. In this regard, it is remarkably consistent. Anyone who was brought up with the darker sides of Jean-Michel Jarre, Tangerine Dream, and other 70s synth pioneers floating around the house will find a whole lot to like on RR7349.

So one of the regrets I have now that Austin is in my rearview mirror is that I am not as locally available for S U R V I V E's increasingly frequent live performances. They do seem to tour more readily, however, so it might be possible to catch them in the metroplex. Probably not in Denton, though. It’s safe to assume that they are too big for all that now. I’d love to be proven wrong on that, though…...

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